It all began in January 2007, when Tata Motors and Motor Development International (Luxembourg) signed a licence agreement permitting Tata Motors to produce and sell compressed air cars using MDI technology in India. The agreement covered two phases of activity.
The first phase of this programme – proof of the technical concept in Tata Motors vehicles—has now been successfully completed with the compressed air engine concept having been demonstrated in two Tata Motors vehicles.
In the second phase of the development, the two companies are working together to complete detailed development of the technology and required technical processes to industrialize a market ready product application over the coming years.
Compressed-air vehicles have had a few false starts, including an aborted launch in the United States in 2010. However, since Tata’s second phase of testing has gone smoothly, its first production compressed-air vehicle, the fiberglass Mini Cat, reportedly is slated to make an August debut. According to Tata, the Mini Cat will cost $8,000 to buy—and just $2 to fill.
The zero emission MiniCat works by using compressed air to push the engine’s pistons. As the compressed air is released, it expands, which provides the power.
In addition, the temperature of the air released drops significantly, providing cold air which can be used for air conditioning in the passenger cabin. The temperature of the clean air expelled by the exhaust pipe is between 0-15 degrees below zero, it can be used to air condition the MiniCAT with no loss of power or mileage.
Tata Motors says that the cost of charging and running the Mini Cat will be about 1/10th of what it costs to operate a gasoline powered car.
The MiniCat also uses regenerative braking similar to hybrids and electric cars, but instead of the braking charging a battery, the energy recovered is used to compress more air.
Founded in 1945, today Tata Motors (NYSE: TTM) is India’s biggest automobile manufacturer.
Headquartered in Mumbai, India’s most populated city, the company is ranked as eighteenth-largest motor vehicle manufacturer in the world according to volume, producing trucks, passenger cars, coach buses and vans.
While Tata has five assembly and manufacturing plants in India, they also have plants in the United Kingdom, Argentina, Thailand and South Africa.
Tata Motors is a very large and well-financed company. It owns Jaguar and Land Rover which it purchased for $2.3bn (£1.4bn) in 2008. Tata Motors is at the forefront of both automotive technology and production.
But, back to the MiniCAT—it runs on compressed air!
Ever since the beginning of the automotive era, auto developers have been trying to find a way to make cars as cheap and clean as possible. Though the Oil Crisis of the 1970s, the current economic recession, and concerns about the environment have sped up the research and development of “green” engine technology. This is especially important now that gas is hitting $4.00 and above ($6.00 in Florida) at the pump in the U.S.A.
India’s largest automaker, Tata Motors, using a development by Luxembourg-based MDI, is producing the world’s first commercial vehicle powered solely by compressed air.
An ex-Formula One engineer, Guy Negre, is the brains behind Tata’s air car, which will be the world’s cleanest car with zero emissions. It’s range will be 185 miles with a top speed of 68 mph. The vehicle will be able to recover up to 13% of the power used via a pneumatic brake power recovery system.
Tata is aiming to release the Mini CAT Air Car in August 2012 with prices starting at around $8,200, which is less than had been estimated previously. Sources report that US version of the car would run exclusively on compressed air at low speeds. Above 35 mph, a small gasoline engine would kick in to provide the car with enough power to hold its own on US highways. For slow stop and go traffic, however, the MiniCat would be running exclusively on air.
Tata Motors has been taking giant strides and making history for itself. First the Land Rover/Jaguar deal, then the world’s cheapest car, and now Tata is set to introduce the car that runs on air—compressed air the MiniCAT.
The vehicle itself is a six-seat mini van using two 340-litre carbon fibre gas tanks which are filled with air to 4350psi.
The MiniCAT which is a simple, light urban car, with a tubular chassis that is glued, not welded, and a body of fiberglass powered by compressed air. Micro-controllers are used in every device in the car, so one tiny radio transmitter sends instructions to the lights, indicators, etc.
There are no keys—just an access card which can be read by the car from your pocket. According to the designers, it costs less than a tenth to operate compared to a car running on gasoline.
The way the MiniCAT works is that ninety cubic meters of compressed air is stored in its air tanks. The expansion of this air pushes the pistons and creates movement.
The atmospheric temperature is used to re-heat the engine and increase the road coverage.
The air conditioning system makes use of the expelled cold air. Due to the absence of combustion and the fact there is no pollution, the oil change is only necessary every 31,000 miles.
The MiniCAT uses an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT)
Its mileage is about double that of even the most advanced electric car, a factor which makes a perfect choice in cities where 80% of motorists drive less than 40 miles per day.
When recharging the tank, the car needs to be connected to a 220 volt power source for 3 to 4 hours. Once the market develops, the recharge can take place at adapted petrol stations to administer compressed air. In two or three minutes, and at a cost of approximately two dollars, the car will be ready to go another 185 miles.
Due to the absence of combustion and, consequently, of residues, changing the oil (1 quart of vegetable oil) is necessary only every 30 thousand miles.
The idea could not have come at a better time when car owners are already reeling under burden of increased gas prices.
The MiniCAT has a fiberglass body and micro-controllers will be used for all operations.
Due to its simple design and tubular chassis, the maintenance of these little cars will be extremely low. The concept is brilliant and the design simple—the MiniCAT will be on the road for all to see (and try out) very soon.
Toyota is also getting into the act.
Toyota’s Ku Rin, a little pencil-shaped rocket (3.5m long, but just 0.8m wide) recently broke the speed record for compressed air-powered vehicles by accelerating to 80.3 MPH (129.2km/h) running on compressed air alone. The Ku Rin generates electricity by expanding the compressed air using a reversed AC compressor.
Of course if you want something a bit more luxurious, the miniCat body can be “accessorized.”
Here is an example—for the “bling bling” version the body is coated with 176 pounds of 22 carat gold, 33 pounds of silver, as well as more than 10 thousand diamonds and rubies.
With a variety of ornaments is of course the price jumped to U.S. $4.6, this mini-car prices have surpassed the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Coupe is priced at only U.S. $1.7 million.
However, your “air mileage” may decrease, somewhat.
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May 28, 2014 Update:
Google plans to have 100 to 200 test vehicles that are fully autonomous with extra safety features.
This comes amid a push to encourage the adoption of driverless cars, which aim to make roads safer with Google’s hardware and software. The two-seat prototypes, which have safety items such as additional foam at the bumper and a plastic-like windshield, are part of the company’s research laboratory called Google X.
“We took a look from the ground up as to what it would be like if we had self-driving cars in the world,” Google’s Sergey Brin said. “We’ve worked with partners in the Detroit area, Germany and California,” he said without giving specifics.
The prototypes let users ask for a destination address and then drives them to it, Brin said.
The vehicles will initially have a top speed of 25 miles per hour and won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal or brake pedal.
In 2012, there were 1.3 million people killed in road traffic accidents, making it the ninth leading cause of death globally, according to World Health Organization data. It is the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 29.
Google has been testing driverless cars — including modified Prius and Lexus models from Toyota Motor Corp. — mounted with cameras, radar sensors and lasers on U.S. roads. General Motors Co., Volvo Cars NV, Nissan Motor Co. (7201) and others are jockeying against Google to roll out hands-free cars.
Over the next two decades, self-driving cars are going to get a bigger share of the market. Such vehicles will reach 11.8 million in 2035, according to Egil Juliussen, an analyst at IHS Automotive. And by 2050, he expects almost all cars to become self-driving. They are estimated to fetch premiums that will start at $7,000 to $10,000 in 2025, he said.